Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

| The Lega | Lega Masks | Lega Ivories |

Lukungu miniature mask. Lega. Kivu, Zaïre. Ivory, resin, bones, cowries, skull of a small carnivore.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  Lega Masks

Lega masks, worn during bwami initiations, are usually characterized by a heart-shaped, concave face. In contrast with most other African masks, which hide the wearer's face, Lega masks can be worn on the side or the back of the head, hung from a beard or carried in the hands. They can also be piled up or grouped on the ground, or suspended from a fence or a pole.

The most common type of Lega mask is the small lukwakongo mask, which often has a fibre beard, symbolizing old age. The name is associated with death and the dead. These masks are the personal possessions of the bwami members who have reached yananio, the penultimate level. Although they are not portraits and do not represent a specific ancestor, the masks are heirlooms from former initiates and so evoke happy memories. Most important is the idea that the deceased are not really dead, but go on living through the masks they have left behind, thus allowing their descendants to carry on their traditions. The aphorisms recited as an accompaniment during the rituals refer to the philosophical and moral principles of the bwami.

During rituals, a larger type of Lega mask was attached to a fence and surrounded by the smaller lukwakongo masks. The idimu mask represented "the Master of the Land surrounded by his children," and symbolized the unity and cohesion of the communities that gathered around it.

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